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The Israeli activists helping protect the Palestinian olive harvest

For the past decade and a half, dozens of left-wing Israeli activists have come together to accompany Palestinians to their groves during the olive harvest. Despite recurring settler violence, the situation has improved over the years.

It had become like the opening ceremony of the olive harvest season: last Wednesday, Israeli settlers uprooted 40 olive trees in Turmusaya, a small Palestinian village north of Ramallah. Palestinian farmers face settler violence throughout the year, but it is during the olive harvest that the attacks increase dramatically.

For the past 16 years, a group of left-wing organizations have banded together to try and stop the attacks. The Harvest Coalition, made up of groups such as Ta’ayush, Rabbis for Human Rights, Coalition of Women for Peace, and Combatants for Peace, among others, has enlisted Israeli volunteers to join Palestinian farmers in areas that are more prone to violence. The very presence of Israeli activists can provide the farmers with the bare minimum of protection in the occupied territories.

The coalition was formed in 2002 by 82-year-old Yaakov Manor, a veteran Israeli human rights activist.

“I first heard about the problem of settlers attacking Palestinian farmers in the 90s,” says Manor. “I was in charge of Peace Now’s dialogue committee, and traveled to many villages. One time I received a phone call from friends in Nablus who said, ‘We have a big problem in Burin, they won’t let them harvest.’ So we decided to join them. I did not understand the severity of the issue at the time; none of us did, since in those years Palestinians did not speak much about these kinds of attacks. The joint harvest did not end up taking place, since the Islamic Movement was strong in the Nablus area, and they didn’t want Jews going into the villages.

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“The real beginning of the joint harvests was during the Second Intifada, when I was already active with Ta’ayush. We received an urgent phone call from the village of Yasuf, next to Kfar Tapuach, which used be heavily Kahanist. I went there with Rabbi Arik Ascherman from Rabbis for Human Rights, we saw the settlers who invaded the village land, they attacked the Palestinians and tried to kick us out. The army always had an easier time dispersing the Palestinians and Israeli activists, so that’s what they did. Afterward we heard stories that...

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Judge: Israeli police 'scandalous' for trying to deport U.S.-French activist

Instead of bringing to court Frank Romano, who was arrested trying to block an Israeli army bulldozer in Khan al-Ahmar, Israeli police tried to deport him without notifying his lawyer or the court. Judge orders him released.

After taking the nearly unprecedented step of arresting a foreign national under Israeli military law, Israeli police openly defied the country’s civilian court system by simply deciding not to bring French-American professor and activist Frank Romano to his own detention hearing, instead spiriting him off to a deportation hearing without ever informing his lawyer — or the court.

After ordering police to bring Romano back to her courtroom from an airport deportation facility where he was about to be put on a plane to the United States, Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Chavi Toker rebuked Israeli police for what she called their “scandalous” behavior and ordered Roman released pending appeal.

Romano was arrested by Israeli authorities on Friday after putting his body in front of an Israeli military bulldozer preparing for the demolition and forced displacement of Khan al-Ahmar, a Palestinian village Israel plans to destroy in its entirety in the coming days. In a highly unusual step, Roman was arrested under Israeli military law instead of Israeli civilian law.

Israeli civilians are subject to Israeli civilian law while in the West Bank but Palestinians are subject to Israeli military law, which have different rules, standards, and often punishments. Foreign nationals are rarely put into the military system.

Under Israeli civilian law police must bring a suspect before a judge within 24 hours of arresting them, while under military law authorities can wait 96 hours before bringing an arrestee to court for a detention hearing. Romano’s lawyer, Gaby Lasky, had requested that his detention hearing be held in a civilian court, which was granted and scheduled for 4 p.m. on Sunday — over two days after his arrest.

Instead of bringing Romano to court at 4 p.m., however, at 2 p.m. Israeli police transferred him to the custody of immigration officials, who held a deportation hearing without informing Lasky or the court and were preparing to put him on a plane to the United States. (Romano lives in France.)

According to Lasky, the decision to book her client under military law instead of into the civilian justice system was made in order to give them time to deport him before he saw a judge, which, she...

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IDF detains South Hebron Hills tour organizers, days after settler attack there

Israeli soldiers detained senior members of Breaking the Silence and a human rights attorney in an attempt to block a tour of the South Hebron Hills, where settlers attacked six left-wing activists last week.

By Orly Noy

Breaking the Silence planned a tour in the South Hebron Hills on Friday, as a token of solidarity with the six Ta’ayush activists who were attacked there last week by settlers from the nearby illegal outpost of Mitzpe Yair. But before they could arrive to the tour location, several buses carrying hundreds of participants were stopped and delayed by military forces for over an hour.

The soldiers handed the tour organizers a military order which allows them to restrict who may enter certain areas in the West Bank. As expected, the order applied exclusively to the participants of the tour – settlers can move as they wish in that space. Among the participants were Member of Knesset Mossi Raz, a politician with the left-leaning Meretz party, and former Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair.

About an hour into the delay, the IDF removed the roadblock, and the tour went on as planned. Until the buses arrived at the entrance of the Mitzpe Yair outpost, that is – the same location of last week’s attacks. There, the soldiers confronted the tour participants again, and detained three of them: director of Breaking the Silence Avner Gvaryahu, the organization’s communications director, Achiya Schatz, and human rights attorney Michael Sfard.

One of the tour participants said: “On our way to Mitzpe Yair, a military jeep stopped us and would not let us pass. We got off the bus, and a few minutes later another jeep arrived with military officers who said that this was a closed military zone, and that we must quickly board the bus again and leave. Obviously, it was not quick – we waited while lawyer Michael Sfard and Avner Gvaryahu stepped aside to speak with the military officers. Suddenly, another jeep arrived with border police forces, and their commander decided to detain Avner and Achiya. He selected them one after the other, without an apparent reason why.”

“When we tried to leave the place, the bus could not make a turn because of the narrow access road. Security forces then decided to strip the Palestinian bus drivers of their licenses, and give them tickets for entering a road they could not get out of – except...

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'Spilling enemy blood is allowed': After settler attack, Israeli activists speak out

Four left-wing Israeli activists were taken to a hospital after being violently attacked by settlers in the West Bank on Saturday. Violence by settlers against activists has grown more common over the past few months, yet it seems the authorities are doing very little to stop it.

When I heard the initial reports that settlers from the illegal outpost of Mitzpe Yair, in the south Hebron Hills, violently attacked a group of left-wing Israeli activists, I remembered the briefing I underwent in that exact same spot two years ago. “Be very careful,” one of the activists told me. “The settlers can come out of nowhere, and they are not afraid to use violence. They are always ready.” On Saturday, that same activist was one of six who were attacked and hospitalized.

Pepe Goldman, 66, was also among the six who were attacked. “Now I am okay,” he told me a few hours after the incident. “It hurts a bit, but it is okay. I was hit in my ribcage, but luckily nothing was broken.” As for the other activists, Goldman said, one needed stitches for a deep wound on his arm, another may have a fractured pelvis, another had his foot dislocated, and an activist who was thrown to the ground needed medical treatment in Jerusalem.

Goldman has been active with Ta’ayush, a left-wing Israeli organization, which has been documenting settlement expansion and protecting Palestinian shepherds from settler violence, for two years. “We left as we do every Saturday morning at 6 a.m. to accompany shepherds. Sometimes when we notice illegal settlement construction on our drive we stop to take photos and pass on the documentation to the Civil Administration. Most of the time nothing happens, maybe some cursing or shoving. Usually when we arrive, the army declares the area a closed military zone — closed off to us, that is. Not to the settlers.”

“Today, after we were done accompanying the shepherds, as we were heading back to Jerusalem, we heard that the army had entered a Palestinian home in the area and confiscated phones, work tools, etc. without a warrant. We came, wrote down the information, and headed to Mitzpe Yair, where we wanted to photograph new, illegal construction. When we reached the site, the IDF asked us to leave, but did not prevent us from taking photos.”

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But then came...

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How one law exposes what Israel has always tried to hide

From the moment it was established, Israel granted its Jewish citizens privileges at the expense of Palestinians. The ‘nation-state bill’ reveals the choice Israelis have to make about the future of their country.

Years ago, American journalist Ted Koppel hosted a fascinating televised debate between Rabbi Meir Kahane, the far-right anti-Arab leader, and Ehud Olmert, then a fresh-faced Knesset member from the Likud party. As the Israeli parliament is set to approve the Nation-State Law, which would enshrine discrimination against non-Jews in Israel, it is worth going back and paying close attention to the debate.

Kahane laid out his political vision without qualms. “Israelis, and especially those in power, are afraid that I will ask them the following question,” he says calmly. “Do the Arabs in Israel have the democratic right to sit quietly, democratically, and give birth to enough children to become the majority? They are afraid that I’ll ask the question. In Israel, currently, without Kahane in power, there is a law that allows Jews to receive citizenship from the mere fact that they ask for it, and that does not allow non-Jews to lease state land. Kahane did not legislate these laws. These are laws that were originally passed by the Labor Party.”

Olmert, an exceptional rhetorician, found himself stumbling to respond, retorting instead to an embarrassing discussion of chance and probability. And for good reason. Free of the shackles of political correctness and democratic veneers, Kahane was able to reveal the true face of Zionism in Israel: an inherent, perpetual demographic war against its Palestinian citizens. If Israel seeks to be Jewish and democratic, it needs to actively ensure a Jewish majority.

It is surprising therefore that it was the clause in the Nation-State Law that allows for the establishment of Jewish-only communities that has brought about so much opposition. After all, the Zionist project in Israel, since its inception, was one of re-engineering the land. This forms the basis for the state’s attitude and treatment of Palestinians — whether it is ethnic cleansing in the West Bank, forbidding family reunification, the Law of Return, or the fact that since Israel’s founding, not a new single Arab town has been established, save for some Bedouin townships in the south, built to stop the Bedouin population from expanding.

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The Jewish public in Israel...

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The West Bank villages under threat no one is talking about

While the media focused on Khan al-Ahmar’s nonviolent struggle against its destruction, Israeli authorities demolished 12 structures in a nearby Bedouin community, laying the groundwork for further evictions. 

Israel is fighting a war of attrition against the Bedouin villages east of Jerusalem. And yet, despite the looming threat of wholesale demolition and eviction, the villagers can finally breathe easy, after the High Court of Justice night froze the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar until July 16. This, of course, is far from a victory; ever since the same court gave the green light to the demolition in May, the villagers have been counting the days until their expulsion.

Over the past few weeks, the village has been the site of activity by Palestinian, Jewish, and international activists, as well as security forces who have been preparing for the eviction. The IDF has declared the area a closed military zone — refusing entry even to diplomats — all while paving access roads that will eventually be used to carry out the demolition.

Things reached a boiling point last Wednesday, when security forces clashed with activists who attempted to block Israeli bulldozers. The village remained untouched, yet the destruction Israel is meting out against the Bedouin communities of E1 is simply a matter of time and place. While the media was focused on Khan al-Ahmar, the Civil Administration demolished 12 structures in the adjacent Bedouin village of Abu Nuwar, leaving 62 people — half of them children — without a roof over their heads, in the summer heat.

One of them is Harba Hamadin, a young construction worker, husband, and father to a one year old. Following the demolition of their home, the family moved in with his parents in a packed structure with another 15 people. His brother and cousin also lost their homes, as did their children, nine in total. All of the kids, says Harba, witnessed the demolition, and have been in a state of deep anxiety ever since. “The demolition orders are from three years ago,” he says as he stands by the ruins of his home. “I do not know why they came now. The attorney says they need to give a month’s notice, but they said nothing.” Like Khan al-Ahmar, the state wants to move the residents of Abu Nuwar to a garbage dump next to Abu Dis in East Jerusalem. “This will destroy our entire community,” Harba says. “That isn’t our land, and the...

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IDF releases conscientious objector after 100 days in military prison

Brachfeld had declared her refusal ‘to take part in the oppression of the Palestinian people.’ It is very rare for the army to grant conscientious objector status to non-religious Jewish Israelis. A new lawsuit seeks to change that.

The Israeli army discharged conscientious objector Ayelet Brachfeld on Tuesday after imprisoning her for 100 days. Israel has compulsory military service, and Brachfeld refused to be drafted due to her opposition to the occupation.

It took four prison terms adding up to 100 days behind bars for the army’s conscientious objection committee to grant her the exemption. Most other conscientious objectors are ultimately discharged for “serious misconduct,” “unsuitability,” or are given psychological exemptions instead of being recognized as conscientious objectors.

Brachfeld, who lives in Tel Aviv, first declared her refusal to serve in the army back in February. She explained her decision at the time in a statement published on Facebook:

Upon leaving prison on Tuesday, Brachfeld said that as an Israeli, she has the responsibility to do “everything I can to stop this cycle of bloodshed. Refusing is my first step.”

Were she a religious Jew, she would have likely been released with little trouble. Secular conscientious objectors, on the other hand, are required to undergo a long and difficult process in the hopes of convincing the army to discharge them. It almost always ends in jail time, which can last up to 150 days.

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A recently filed lawsuit seeks to challenge the army’s discrimination against secular conscientious objectors, as opposed to those who refuse to join the army for religious reasons.

Brachfeld is one of dozens of Israeli high school students who signed the “2017 Shministim Letter,” and who is being supported by Mesarvot — Refusing to Serve the Occupation, a grassroots network that brings together individuals and groups who refuse to enlist in the IDF in protest at the occupation.

Two additional conscientious objectors, Hillel Grami and Lohar Altman, are expected to declare their refusal to serve in the IDF in the coming weeks.

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WATCH: Gaza youth dance the dabke in Israeli sniper range

The world continues to ignore their plight so youth in Gaza are trying to find creative, new ways to fight Israel’s siege. Now we can only hope that Israel doesn’t declare dancing a form of terrorism.

Since the above video was published online last Friday, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head: a young Palestinian girl and a handful of boys dancing the traditional dabke along the Gaza-Israel border against a backdrop of plumes of smoke. Perhaps it is because the video manages to encapsulate so much of the story of the occupation and the siege in two-and-a-half minutes: the power dynamics between the occupier and the oppressed, the clenched fist of the former and the determination of the latter.

The video was filmed last Friday during the most recent of the Great Return March protests, which have been taking for three months now. In an interview with Rami Younis a few days before the protests kicked off, organizer Hasan al-Kurd emphasized how the plan was explicitly nonviolent — organizers said they objected to throwing stones and burning tires — and meant to communicate to the world the situation of Gazans living under siege. The organizers also said they wanted to send a message of peace to Israelis.

Indeed, even though Israeli did all it could at the time to paint the protests as violent, terror protests orchestrated by Hamas, and despite the disturbingly high number of protesters the IDF killed and wounded, the demonstrations, with few exceptions, remained nonviolent. As Meron Rapoport wrote last week, in May the Israeli government admitted in court that only 25 out of more than 100,000 protesters had tried to cross or damage Israel’s border fence at the time. No Israeli soldier was wounded during the protests. On the Palestinian side, more than 100 were killed.

And thus Israel proved to the Palestinians yet again that it is deadlier to protest along the border than it is to fire rockets over it. Soon enough, the language of violence once again reclaimed its place as the primary form of communication between Israel and Hamas. Thus, with a lower profile and fewer participants, the weekly demonstrations continue. Gazans are still heading to the border every Friday, risking Israeli sniper fire to remind the world that they are still living...

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Israeli activists bring images of Gaza dead to the heart of Tel Aviv

In the middle of the night, left-wing activists hung 115 kites along Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv’s central street — one for each Palestinian protester killed by Israeli forces during the Great Return March protests.

Israeli activists hung 115 black kites along Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard overnight on Sunday, in remembrance of every Palestinian killed by the Israeli army in Gaza during the Great Return March.

“We all witnessed what happened in Gaza over the past couple of weeks, says A., one of the organizers of the action. “There was a big escalation both in terms of what happened and the responses. We stood and watched how they opened fire on people who were demonstrating and, at the same time, the public’s indifference and the media’s coverage of the killing.”

The action was partially a response to the 60 Palestinians killed during the protests on May 14. A., who was abroad at the time, struggled to comprehend what had happened. “I returned to Israel and I was in shock to see that [here] nothing had happened — complete indifference.”

“There were, of course, actions by groups like the Coalition of Women for Peace and the solidarity protests in Haifa,” she added, “but I felt we needed to bring the faces of these 115 people who were killed, who have brothers and sisters and parents, to the Israeli public.”

“The kites were part of this, a follow-up to the pinning of the faces of those killed on the fence near Gaza,” A. said. “On Friday, kites with the names of those killed were flown. We took the next step and brought their faces to the heart of Rothschild, where one cannot smell the ash, and where it is easy to look away from the daily killing. We could not remain silent.”

In addition to the picture of the deceased, each kite bore their name in Arab and Hebrew, as well as their date of birth. “You see how young they were and you realize that we have been wardens guarding the prisoners in the world’s largest prison for three generations.”

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The kites are also symbolic. Over the past few weeks, Palestinians have launched burning kites into Israeli towns on the border with Gaza, causing immense damage to local agriculture.

“People passed by, read, and looked at the names. Some ripped...

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What would you do if soldiers dragged your son out of bed in the middle of the night?

After more than half a century of occupation, most Israelis can no longer imagine themselves in the place of the Palestinians. But if we cannot imagine what it is like to live under occupation, we must at least confront its brutal reality. 

Twenty years ago, in March 1998, the head of the Labor Party Ehud Barak was asked by Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy what he would do were he a young Palestinian living under occupation. “If I were a Palestinian of the right age, I would, at some point, join one of the terrorist groups,” Barak answered.

Today, not only is it difficult to imagine a Jewish Israeli politician making a similar statement; the question itself sounds imaginary. Can we imagine ourselves as Palestinians? What a strange idea. If there is one thing 50 years of brutal military rule over another people has seared into the Israeli consciousness, it is that there is one law for us, and another for Palestinians — that our destinies as human beings were meant to be different.

When you consistently and systematically abuse the Other for decades, this separation of consciousness becomes a kind of survival mechanism. The fact that we cannot imagine ourselves in the place of those living in Gaza — for example, subject to a siege that forces one to live a life of suffering and extreme poverty — allows us to carry on without pangs of guilt.

This mechanism works not only in the more extreme cases such as Gaza, but perhaps even better when it comes to what we have learned to call “the routine of occupation.”

Take the video below, which was published by Israel human rights organization B’Tselem on Thursday: soldiers invade the Da’na family home in Hebron in the middle of the night, waking up the entire family, including children and the elderly, to look for stone-throwers. Israeli soldiers are allowed, by military decree, to carry out raids in every house at every hour, without a search warrant. They break in with weapons drawn. “You entered our home, enter respectfully,” says one of the family members to the soldiers. A heartfelt plea to soldiers in helmets. What does occupation have to do with respect?  

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The Israeli gov't is arguing that annexation is good for Palestinians

In a High Court case over a law to legalize Israeli settlements built on stolen, privately owned Palestinian land, the attorney hired to represent the government (because the attorney general refused to do so) argues that Palestinians, and not just settlers, would actually benefit.

Israel’s High Court of Justice heard arguments on Sunday against the “Formalization Law,” which would retroactively legalize settlements built illegally on private Palestinian land.

Sunday’s hearing was remarkable, and not only because of the law’s potential consequences. After all, it’s not every day that attorneys Michael Sfard and Hassan Jabareen, two of the country’s most prominent human rights lawyers, find themselves on the same side as the Attorney General — and in opposition to the government and the Knesset.

For much of the hearing, Attorney Aner Helman, who represented the Attorney General’s office, gave such a stirring denunciation of the law’s human rights violations that one might have thought he was one of the petitioners in the case.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has refused to defend the law, calling it unconstitutional. Due to his refusal, the government was forced to hire a private lawyer, Attorney Harel Arnon, to defend the law in court.

Most of the hearing focused on two main questions. First, is international law the relevant in the case or should the law be judged according to Israeli law? If it’s the latter, should international law be ignored entirely?

Arnon quickly answered the first question: the lawsuit is a matter of striking down Knesset legislation, rather than an administrative order. “The petitioners, in practice, are asking the court to carry out a judicial coup,” he claimed. “They are demanding, in the name of foreign norms, to flip the scales that Israeli society designed for itself.” The suit, Arnon continued, constitutes an attempt to erode the authority of the Knesset.

After grounding his claim that the expropriation law should be judged solely according to the Israeli legal framework, Arnon took more than an hour to detail the central aims of the legislation. The immediate goal, he said, is for the government to take responsibility for a situation in which, due to a complex political reality, it’s own policy has been contradictory. On the one hand, the government has funded and supported the West Bank settlement enterprise, even when these activities were illegal in one way or another. On the other hand, the government didn’t formalize the situation — in other...

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In memory of Razan al-Najjar

The 21-year-old paramedic was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers while trying to aid wounded protesters near the Gaza-Israel separation fence. Many Israelis either refuse to believe she was actually killed or claim that her killing was somehow justified.

Around two weeks ago, a Facebook friend of mine proposed an experiment to a small group of us. Social media has become a boxing ring, she said. The two sides, left and right, dig into their positions and slug it out in the comments — and that’s if they don’t just “block” each other. My friend suggested that for a month, we try to engage in a productive dialogue with right-wingers on Facebook, even with the most combative of commenters. After all, our aim is to change what and how people think, and to do that, we need to speak to other side. Let’s try it, I said, if only for a month — to see what happens.

For the past two days, I’ve been thinking about Razan al-Najjar, the 21-year-old paramedic shot and killed by Israeli soldiers Friday near the Gaza-Israel separation fence. According to witnesses, she was wearing her white paramedic’s uniform, attempting to treat protesters near the fence when she was shot. Immediately following Razan’s death, her picture appeared everywhere on my Facebook newsfeed. I, too, shared a post with her picture.

The angry responses came quickly.

Here was an opportunity to try out the dialogue experiment my friend had suggested, I thought. Maybe because Razan in her white uniform was so different from the image of the terrorist that the Israeli collective imagination assigned the protesters in Gaza, I hoped there would be an opening for compassion, for second thoughts, for a discourse free from blind hatred.

I was wrong.

Instead, the following responses came pouring in: “What was she doing there in the first place? “Why didn’t she wait for the wounded in the hospital?” “You really think our soldiers kill protesters on purpose?” “That’s how it is in war.” “Hamas makes them to go to these protests.”

I tried to respond with calm, level-headed answers.

She didn’t wait for the wounded at the hospital because the Israeli army’s massive use of live fire made it necessary for first responders to be in the field — just like Israeli medics would at a mass casualty event.

And no, this is not “how it is in...

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The well-oiled legal machine that enables IDF violence

The majority of complaints by Palestinians about violence by Israeli soldiers go nowhere, and when they do, it can take over a year for the military prosecution to decide whether to even open an investigation.

In his latest article, my colleague Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man described the way in which Israel’s civilian and military court system is used as a fig leaf to prevent the International Criminal Court from investigating Israeli crimes in the occupied territories. The idea is simple: as long as the local legal systems effectively fulfill their role, the ICC has no mandate to intervene.

Meanwhile, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan is working to promote a new bill that would grant immunity to soldiers who are suspected of criminal wrongdoing during military operations. The truth is that Ben Dahan’s bill is entirely redundant: a new report published this week by Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din show that soldiers who allegedly commit crimes against the Palestinian population in the occupied territories enjoy near-full immunity.

According to Yesh Din, between 2011-2016 (data from 2017 has yet to be published), only 3.4 percent of investigations into attacks on Palestinians opened by the IDF’s Criminal Investigations Department ended in indictments. That’s 32 out of 948 cases. That number is especially striking considering the fact that the military prosecution decides ahead of time which cases it will prosecute. This means that most complaints by Palestinians do not lead to investigations.

In 2016 the military prosecution received 302 complaints of crimes committed by soldiers against Palestinians or their property. Forty percent of those complaints had to do with soldiers opening fire on Palestinians, 34 percent revolved around soldier violence, and 24 percent were lodged in response to property damage and looting. In 220 of those incidents, the military prosecution decided to either open an investigation or close the case. Out of those, only 46 led to investigations. The remaining 174 cases were ordered closed. Of the cases that were opened, only 6.4 percent led to indictments by the end of the first quarter of 2017. That’s five cases. One of them was the case of Elor Azaria, an Israeli soldier who was filmed while executing a dying Palestinian.

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So how does the military prosecution decide which cases will be opened for investigation? When it comes to incidents in which soldiers kill Palestinians, official policy says that the Criminal Investigations Unit...

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